Rising cybersecurity concerns within the IIOT

Each industry – and the individual elements of that industry, for that matter – would have a specific manner in which they have adapted the Industrial Internet of Things to satisfy their own specific array of requirements, according to Atin Chhabra, global director, digital customer experience, Schneider Electric

Atin Chhabra is global director, digital customer experience, at Schneider Electric.
Atin Chhabra is global director, digital customer experience, at Schneider Electric.

The sheer pace at which technology is developing in today’s day-and-age is nothing to scoff at. One needs to only look at how our lifestyles have been altered significantly to understand the gravity of modern technology’s impact on the way we live our lives daily.

From the increasing prominence of voice assistants all the way to our viewing experience has been completely altered with the initiation of streaming devices – the sheer number of lifestyle changes that have come up as a result of this pervasive technology is nothing short of amazing.

Of course, simply looking at these innovations from this narrow mind-set is not the way to go – the fact of the matter is that there are several other aspects that have also been altered by the arrival of the latest technology, which needs to be kept in mind for the same.

The title of this article should make it abundantly clear that we are speaking about how technology has completely altered the way industries function in modern times. There was a time when nearly every process in any industry required human intervention in some form, or the other to ensure that little to no problems came in the way of optimal industry functionality.

However, this also came at the cost of hiring a larger workforce to handle what were essentially menial tasks. In an industry, there are numerous functions and devoting resources to monitor something as pedestrian as one solitary aspect of a supply line was a waste of a person’s talents and aptitude.

Thankfully, this is where the concept of industrial automation started planting its roots as technological developments became more and more advanced. Over time, it became more feasible for industries to utilise tools, techniques, modules, and procedures that would enhance the level of automation implemented in a particular system and negate the requirement for human resources to be assigned for the same.

This was excellent from the industrial point of view – with this automation technology becoming more economically feasible in the long run, now, a workforce can be assigned to pressing tasks that require a human touch and cannot be accomplished by the current state of industrial automation technology – at least, not yet.

However – as we have all witnessed before at some point, or the other – technology has become a double-edged sword due to the unforeseen complications that might arise as a result. One of the major issues that arise as a result of heavy technological implementation has to be the implied cybersecurity concerns that arise.

After all, with the arrival and growth of technology, no entity – whether an individual, or an organisation – is truly safe from the disastrous impact of a successful cyber-attack, or information breach. It is a situation that has only worsened with the increasing prevalence of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) with a sheer number of these devices continuing to increase with each passing year. This IIoT device revolution has seen a simultaneous increase in the cyber threat landscape due to new avenues of attack that these devices have brought about with them.

Let us look at some staggering numbers. As reported by Identity Theft Resource Centre (ITRC), there was a 126% increase in the number of sensitive consumer records exposed in 2018 compared to 2017. There were 1,244 breaches reported in 2018 with exposed consumer records containing personally identified information (PII) significantly increasing from 197.6mn to 446.5mn and exposed non-sensitive consumer records (email addresses, passwords and usernames) increased to a staggering 1.68bn. Financially, this amounts to $11.5bn damage costs already in 2019 with a business falling to ransomware attack every 11 seconds.

Of course, it is not like cybersecurity threats have become an unspoken aftermath of adapting the latest technology. The fact of the matter is that the biggest companies all around the world are spearheading this rampant change and serve as a way for other companies all over the world to understand the wealth of benefits that can be enjoyed with the integration of the latest innovations.

However, implementation is key, and failing on the execution front can cause many glitches, errors, and unintentional gateways to arise in the software itself. This is a major concern in industrial markets, which have consistently found themselves as targets for potential cyber-criminals and information thieves.

To put the situation into context, here are some of the primary reasons why the requirement for enhanced cybersecurity solutions has become a major concern within the domain of the IIoT system.

One of the major issues that arise as a result of heavy technological implementation has to be the implied cybersecurity concerns that arise.

Outdated and obsolete systems
A noteworthy component of the globe’s IT infrastructure is currently functioning on outdated software and hardware solutions. A prominent example of this is SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition). They are essentially utilised as a platform of data collection and process automation. SCADA systems were initially designed to function internally, without keeping secure communication in mind.

However, as time has progressed, a significant number of vulnerabilities have come up within these systems. In most cases, these systems are not supported, or updated with security applications, even if the damages they address are obvious. Developing a security patch can be a cumbersome task, since the proposed changes may result in the other components of the system to underperform, or fail.

Growing demands
It can easily be said that demand for IIoT devices greatly exceeds the demand for the security and safeguarding of these same devices. Along with the fact that the customised configuration of distinct systems can harm a facility, any disturbance in this service can have disastrous results. These consequences can impact the operational as well as financial safety of a system.

To elaborate on this further, imagine trying to replace the entire foundation of a car without it impacting the functionality of other components such as the gear, steering wheel, or even the clutch. It is virtually impossible to accomplish this without encountering a hurdle in some form, or the other – a situation that arises more often than not in an IIoT scenario as well.

Inadequate standards
The sudden revolution of the IIoT has led to an inevitable demand for security which was earlier negligible. This has led to an array of specific standards for cybersecurity solutions. However, enforcing these standards pervasively is close to impossible due to the diversity and uniqueness of each system and their functionality.

Identifying the specific automation aspects of each industry can prove to be a massive challenge indeed, but it is something that needs to be taken care of if industries truly wish to safeguard themselves from any possible cyber-attacks that might arise.

Sheer popularity of IIoT
As elaborated on below, the undying thirst for operational efficiency and performance enhancement within the industry has resulted in the swift employment of new-age technologies. This makes cybersecurity an even bigger concern due to the meaningful threat introduced by the growth of the IIoT. After all, this popularity would inevitably imply that more and more people would be interested in the way this technology works.

And, as is the case with pretty much anything that gets popular, there are bound to be imitators who wish to understand the way technology works – whether illegitimately, or otherwise. In a way – like the entire concept of IIoT as a whole – popularity is a double-edged sword, which brings forth both positive and negative attention.

Technology has been developing by leaps and bounds, making it the need of the hour for companies to understand the best course of action that can be taken to optimise their processes. However, the fact of the matter is that the implementation of said technology is not as easy as one might assume – there are several complications that come in the way of organisations accomplishing the same.

One of the biggest problems that has come up as a result of widespread adoption of the latest technology – such as the IIoT – has to be the requirement for improved cybersecurity services. After all, cyber-attacks are very much a genuine threat that is plaguing modern industries as we know it.

There are several reasons as to why this is the case, with aspects such as obsolete systems, increasing demand, less-than-desired technological standards, and the widespread adoption of IIoT contributing to the growing pains of industries implementing appropriate cybersecurity protocols to augment their operations and safeguard their resources.

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